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Is this how the mind works?

Premises (visible & hidden) -> Emotion/Feeling/Intuition -> Decision/Action?

The issue with premise -> decision/action is that premises (that are not constructed at the logical level) are not 100% accurate unless one is omniscient. For example: It's one thing to observe someone coming toward you with a knife. It's another to say for sure that he is going to stab you or if he's just going to run past you. I have the "feeling" that there has to be some sort of function that says "Time's up. No more thinking. This is what we're going to do base on what we know."

Obviously we want to ensure that our premises are base on perception and not an irrational feedback loop initiated by wishful thinking. However, that is not the intent of this question.

Interesting conclusion from a study on the brain below:

In fact, people who lack emotions because of brain injuries often have difficulty making decisions at all, notes Damasio. The brain stores emotional memories of past decisions, and those are what drive people's choices in life, he suggests. "What makes you and me 'rational' is not suppressing our emotions, but tempering them in a positive way," he says.



A person wrote this in the answer section.

"Man always has the capacity to overrule his emotions."

Is this direct overrule or more of an adjustment of the premises that caused the emotion in the first place? For example: Let say someone bumps into me and cause me to spill my drink. I become very angry at that person and want to confront him. This anger is created by me adopting the premise that the person did it on purpose. I could diffuse the anger by adopting a different premise (e.g., the person didn't know).

Another way to visualize this is to imagine a computer with 2 processes. One process (A) is responsible for processing perceptions, creating concepts and beliefs and writing them down onto the hard drive. Another process (B) is responsible for reading the data off that hard drive and creating emotional responses out of what it finds. Process (B) is also the process that controls conscious actions. This is different than process (A) directly interfering with the operations of process (B) and/or taking control of conscious actions directly.

Is this a "close-enough" representation of the Objectivist's view point on the relationship between thoughts and emotions?

UPDATE 2 ---

What about this revised computer model. Process (A) the conscious responsible for processing perceptions, creating concepts and beliefs and writing them down into the hard drive. Process (A) is also the same process that control conscious actions. Process (B) reads data off the hard drive continuously and provide emotional feedback to process (A). When there is a conflict in the message provided by process (B) vs. what process (A) determines is the right course of action, it's usually because there's a hidden premise that process (A) is unaware of. Process (A) at this point can choose to blank out and just do whatever process (B) tells it to do, suppress the emotion that process (B) gives it and proceed with its action or take the correct action and search to identify the hidden premise(s) to make them conscious.

asked Jan 17 '12 at 19:42

Humbug's gravatar image


edited Jan 25 '12 at 12:55

Depends on whether you have identified reason as your means of living. If not then emotions probably do play a significant part of your decision process. OPAR suggests that emotions are results of automatized evaluations performed by your subconscious. More info here http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/emotions.html

(Jan 17 '12 at 22:03) CarGuy CarGuy's gravatar image

The question asks about the relation between thoughts, emotions, and conscious actions. ("Conscious" actions refer to actions that are consciously initiated, as against lower level bodily actions that may be largely automatic, such as heartbeat, breathing, digestion, etc.)

Objectivism recognizes thinking and conscious actions as volitional -- not necessarily chosen directly, but capable of being stopped by going out of focus, or performed as a result of staying in focus. ("Thinking" while out of focus is better described as "metnal drifting." Processes like "daydreaming" and "reverie" tend to be performed out of focus, also, although one can retain a considerable degree of focus, i.e., cognitive self-awareness and self-directedness, even in these cases if one makes an effort to do so.)

Emotions occur automatically, as products of previously automatized psychosomatic response patterns, along with one's awareness and automatized evaluations of present stimuli. Emotions may imply a course of action, but they are not irrevocably determining. Man always has the capacity to overrule his emotions. If one does not choose to act otherwise, then one's ideas and emotions will certainly tend to induce corresponding actions; but man always retains the choice to continue or not until his action, if any, is completed.

Harmonious emotional responses, i.e., emotions that align well with one's conscious thoughts, can greatly facilitate one's actions, allowing one to act far more immediately and seemingly naturally, even though one's conscious mind still retains ultimate control.

There is an entire section in OPAR, Chap. 2, on the topic of "Human Actions, Mental and Physical, as Both Caused and Free," which explains the relation between focusing and action. One passage (pp. 66-67) explains:

[Focusing] is the choice, in each moment and issue, which controls all of one's subsequent choices and actions.

The same principle applies to the realm of physical action. Like mental processes, man's existential actions, too, have causes. Just as one cannot perform a thought process without a reason, so one cannot perform an action in reality without a reason. In general, the cause of action is what a man thinks, including both his value-judgments and his factual knowledge and beliefs. These ideas define the goals of a man's action and the means to them. (The relation between thought and feeling is discussed in Chapter 5.) ...

In regard to action, a man's choice -- one he must make in every issue -- is: to act in accordance with his values or not.

The OPAR discussion goes on to provide considerable elaboration of what acting on one's values means. The whole subsection also explains in detail how focus is involved in the mental realm, i.e., mental actions in consciousness.


In an update to the question, the questioner explicitly asks about a computer analogy. (It was implicit in some of the terminology in the original question.) Ayn Rand used a computer analogy herself in describing man's emotional mechanism, automatization, the subconscious, and sense of life. The excerpts in the topic of "Subconscious" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon explain, in part:

Your subconscious is like a computer -- more complex a computer than men can build -- and its main function is the integration of your ideas. Who programs it? Your conscious mind. If you default, if you don't reach any firm convictions, your subconscious is programmed by chance -- and you deliver yourself into he power of ideas you do not know you have accepted. But one way or the other, your computer gives you print-outs, daily and hourly, in the form of emotions -- which are lightning-like estimates of the things around you, calculated according to your values. If you programmed your computer by conscious thinking, you know the nature of your values and emotions. If you didn't, you don't. [...]

The subconscious is an integrating mechansim. Man's conscious mind observes and establishes connections among his experiences; the subconscious integrates the connections and makes them become automatic.

The Lexicon topics of "Emotions," "Automatization," and "Sense of Life" provide additional context, as well.

To sum up, man's subconscious is like a recorder, continually monitoring what one does consciously, both mentally and in outward action, automatizing (over time) whatever habitual patterns one repeatedly reinforces, and feeding them back instantly whenever new situations arise where one's past habits and practices seem relevant. Ayn Rand mentions that religions often appeal to:

...the myth of a supernatural recorder from whom nothing can be hidden, who lists all of a man's deeds, the good and the evil, the noble and the vile -- and who confronts a man with that record on judgment day.

That myth is true, not existentially, but psychologically. The merciless recorder is the integrating mechanism of man's subconscious; the record is his sense of life.

(Quoted from "Philosophy and Sense of Life" in The Romantic Manifesto, Chapter 2.)

As OPAR explains, however, the feedback which man's subsonscious provides is not determining as to his conscious actions, neither his mental actions nor his physical actions. He can always overrule the feedback (as to its action-implications) if he so chooses. He can't immediately alter the existence of what his subsciousness is trying to remind him about himself, but he doesn't have to act on it if he sees some reason to act against it, or not act at all, and consciously considers that reason to be important enough to warrant intervention between his subconscious and his conscious actions. Since his subconscious is only telling him what his own past record has been, however, he will most likely not overrule it unless he is receiving conflicting feedback, although he always retains the power to overrule the feedback from his subconscious in deciding on conscious actions.

Man can also follow whatever action implications his subsonscious gives him without knowing what past choices and habits of his are prompting the feedback. But he will pay a price for doing that, eventually if not necessarily immediately.

I hope this also clarifies my statement that "Man always has the capacity to overrule his emotions." In the full context of my original paragraph, the meaning should be clear. Man cannot immediately change the fact that he experiences emotions, but he doesn't have to act on them if he sees some reason not to, or if he simply blanks out his mind, going out of focus, for no particular reason. His subconscious will dutifully record the fact that he did that (blanking out), if he does it often enough, and he will eventually suffer needlessly because of it,

Further Update

In an "Update 2," the questioner proposes a computer model of man's consciousness in which Process (A) represents the conscious mind, and Process (B) represents the subconscious. In that modeling approach, Process (B) would need to be responsible for writing to the subconscious "hard drive" as well as reading from it. Process (B) would need to function like a continual, silent "observer," monitoring everything Process (A) thinks and does, integrating it (based on any patterns or habits that may exist in it), and automatizing it. When new stimuli arise, Process (B) would also participate automatically in evaluating that stimuli in terms of the subconscious "hard drive's" contents, and providing emotional feedback to Process (A). The description of the options then available to Process (A) seems basically correct -- blank out and let Process (B) run its course, or suppress the emotion and act against it, or take the action judged by Process (A) to be correct "and search to identify the hidden premise(s) to make them conscious." The expression "hidden premise" here would refer to the subconscious "hard drive's" contents.

At some point in attempting to develop such a "model" further, the model builder would also need to face the fact that man's consciousness is volitionally conceptual, while machine "intelligence" so far is not, and may never be, since machines (so far) are inherently deterministic rather than volitional (as well as not being truly "conscious" at all). At most, they merely represent what Ayn Rand called the frozen form of human intelligence. In the words of John Galt: "The machine, the frozen form of a living intelligence, is the power that expands the potential of your life by raising the productivity of your time."

In a comment, the questioner also asks about my reference to suffering needlessly because of mental blanking out or emotional suppression. I was referring to the psychological effects. Ayn Rand expressed it very memorably (for me, at least) in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Expanded Second Edition, p. 227:

I ascribe ninety-five percent or more of all psychological trouble and personal tragedies to the fact that in the realm of introspection we are on the level where savages were (or lower) in regard to extrospection. Men are not only not taught to introspect, they are actively discouraged from engaging in introspection, and yet their lives depend on it. Without that, nothing is possible to them, including [proper] concept-formation.

Some notes of my own on Objectivism that I developed over the years may also be of interest here. The following is one of the 16 questions for which I prepared personal notes:

What are the main aspects of human consciousness, and how should a person strive to deal with any conflicting thoughts or emotions he may have?

  1. The basic elements of human consciousness are: cognition (sensations, percepts, concepts); emotions (bodily sensations produced automatically by one's evaluations of stimuli); memory; and automatization (habitual patterns of thinking, feeling and acting). The "subconscious" generally denotes one's automatized, emotion-generating beliefs and values—especially one's deepest view of the nature of reality, cognition, human nature, and human morality.

  2. The conceptual level of cognition is volitional. It is the ultimate source of free will in man. Through repetition over time, it gradually programs man's automatizing mechanism, leading to powerful reflex-like physical and intellectual skills and emotional reactions.

  3. Objectivism thus says to man: examine your thoughts and emotions calmly and thoroughly; consciously recognize whatever you are thinking or feeling, even if you don't immediately know the deeper causes. Be consciously aware of whatever you are feeling.

  4. Do not confuse what you might be thinking or feeling with a moral evaluation of it or a deeper understanding of what might be causing it. Make sure you know what your thoughts and emotions actually are before you try to analyze or judge them.

  5. But once you've done that, ask yourself why you think or feel as you do; identify the object of your reactions, and search for possible or likely explanations for why you should (or should not) react as you do to that object; examine the possible explanations calmly and thoroughly before trying to pass self-judgment.

  6. If you have doubts about your professed standards and policies for self-evaluation, examine those more closely, too.

  7. Understand clearly what course of outward action, if any, is implied by your evaluation of your thoughts and emotions.

  8. If you find yourself hesitant to act, don't ignore your hesitation; examine it more closely to see if it is merely an old, out-of-date habit from the past, or a sign that you still haven't fully considered all of your relevant concerns yet. If there is anything new to consider, then consider it conscientiously.

  9. If you know others who can offer rational advice, consider their advice, too, if you want to, or if you sense that you might be making a big mistake not to consider it; but always pass final judgment yourself, according to your own thinking and evaluation.

  10. Finally, as the last step, pronounce the self-judgment that your thoughts, emotions and standards of evaluation imply—and then act accordingly. Action often need not be all at once; plan a more gradual course of action if you are unsure of what to do, and take action one step at a time.

  11. If you are still unsure of what to do and are not under urgent pressure to do something, keep thinking about it until you are genuinely satisfied that you've examined every reasonable consideration in as much detail as it warrants. But don't wait too long to act; don't let indecision become (or remain) an ingrained habit.

  12. In contrast to this approach, many people prefer to surrender to the standards of others and be accepted by them as members of a social network, instead of relying primarily on individual rational judgment. That is how mysticism of all kinds, supernatural as well as social, typically begins—surrendering to others' wishes, hopes or fears while abandoning one's own rational judgment. Over time, one increasingly uses emotions as a substitute for thinking, rather than as expressions of the evaluations proceeding from one's thinking. The more extreme (consistent) mystics may even seek to deceive and/or conquer others rather than merely join them.

  13. But this does not change the underlying facts of what man's life requires, i.e., of reason as man's basic means of survival. Whenever people abandon reason and independent rational judgment, they merely pass the burden of thinking to others. Their survival then depends on whether or not some independent thinkers and producers still exist somewhere who can somehow be induced to support all the others (without provoking the thinkers and producers to refuse).

  14. Social networks can and will nearly always adapt to whatever the prevailing socio-political standards and trends happen to be (including any trend toward greater reliance on reason, personal freedom, individual initiative and individual rights). Such social networks are themselves mere followers of greater historical and cultural trends.

  15. The greater trends, in turn (over time), are caused primarily by the choices and committed philosophical outlook (D, M, or I) of professional intellectuals, though not necessarily within the intellectuals' own lifetimes.
("D, M, and I" refer to Leonard Peikoff's DIM Hypothesis -- Disintegration, Misintegration, Integration.)

Further update again

In a comment, the questioner asks:
"man's consciousness is volitionally conceptual" -- By this definition, wouldn't a machine that is always, by programming, conceptual be the perfect Objectivist? Isn't forming concepts just a type of pattern recognition?
There many issues in this formulation.

First, the quoted clause is not a definition. Refer to the topic of "Definitions" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. What would it be a definition of? Consciousness? But consciousness is an axiomatic concept. Would it be a definition of "consciousness in man"? But the meaning of that formulation would be determined by the definition of man and the meaning of "consciousness."

Furthermore, the process of conceptualization by man is not automatic; it is volitional. Machines (so far) operate automatically, i.e., deterministically.

Furthermore, machines (so far) cannot conceptualize. Man's conceptual capacity encompasses far more than mere pattern recognition.

The questioner raises one very intriguing point, however: what might be the survival value of free will? If focusing is good, and if man ought to do it all the time (while awake), then wouldn't a focused mind have a survival advantage over one that sometimes goes out of focus? If so, then wouldn't evolution imply that man would have evolved to be always in focus by now (or will eventually evolve to that stage)? I've probably said something about that in another thread, unless I'm confusing it with another website. In any case, it's a topic for a separate question-thread.

answered Jan 19 '12 at 01:48

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Jan 27 '12 at 02:29

Can you clarify this part for me? "His subconscious will dutifully record the fact that he did that (blanking out), if he does it often enough, and he will eventually suffer needlessly because of it." What form of suffering are your referring to? Thanks.

(Jan 25 '12 at 12:50) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

It's going to take me a while to digest this. Thanks for the info.

(Jan 26 '12 at 02:46) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

"man's consciousness is volitionally conceptual" -- By this definition, wouldn't a machine that is always, by programming, conceptual be the perfect Objectivist? Isn't forming concepts just a type of pattern recognition?

(Jan 27 '12 at 01:47) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Concepts are much more than a type of pattern recognition. A machine might recognize a chair, but it can never understand what it means to sit, which is a key part of the concept of a chair. Forming concepts requires thinking, feeling, reasoning and volition, and a computer can't think because it doesn't have percepts, emotions, consciousness or free will. Thought and understanding are attributes of consciousness, and a computer isn't conscious.

(Jan 27 '12 at 04:32) Rick ♦ Rick's gravatar image
showing 2 of 4 show all

Premises (visible & hidden)->Emotion/Feeling/Intuition ->

Many -> Decision/Action.

On the otherhand, if:

Objectivist: Emotion/Feeling/Intuition -> Proper or Improper EFI relative to percetptual data.

If proper EFI to Premises (visible or hidden) -> Decision/Action.

If improper EFI to Premises (visible or hidden) -> Revise premises. Decision/Action (revising premises being a decision/action, in this case.)

answered Jan 17 '12 at 22:29

dream_weaver's gravatar image

dream_weaver ♦

What does the "Many" mean?

(Jan 17 '12 at 22:52) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Answer: No. Emotions aren't a "sum function that determines your actions."

Yes, emotions can be difficult to overcome, now and then, but in general, emotions do not determine your action. Your consciousness does. Your feelings are in control only if your consciousness delegates control to them.

We do not always do things because we feel like it. We decidedly can do things when we do not feel like it. Knowing a particular action is right is not an emotion. Acting on knowledge is different from acting on emotion.

An emotionalist is someone who always follows his emotions. Such people rationalize their behavior by claiming things like "emotions drive everyone's choices -- my choices are the necessary result of my emotional sum -- to 'follow reason' is a sham."

A very valuable piece of advice: If you know that doing something is right, do not wait to feel like it before you do it.

Your present choices affect your future emotions. Your emotions do not determine your choices. Recognizing this, and acting accordingly, is to follow reason rather than emotion. And the more often you act on reason -- ignoring feelings to the contrary -- the more rational your feelings will seem. They will be your friend, rather than your enemy -- but never let them be your guide.

answered Jan 27 '12 at 21:24

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

I disagree with this statement "If you know that doing something is right, do not wait to feel like it before you do it." from the standpoint that your consciousness is not fully aware of all your premises. It may be evading things in reality that your subconscious is aware of. Wouldn't the better advice be act when your conscious and your emotion aka subconscious are fully aligned unless it's an emergency?

(Jan 27 '12 at 23:22) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

I said: "If you know that doing something is right." That means you know, which means you are cognitively certain even though you don't feel like doing it.

"Wouldn't the better advice be act when your conscious and your emotion aka subconscious are fully aligned unless it's an emergency?"

Absolutely not. The way you get your subconscious to align with the right ideas is by acting on the right ideas and effectively showing your subconscious evidence of the rightness (i.e. the good results).

In this way, you train your subconscious. You must lead it -- don't let it lead you.

(Jan 27 '12 at 23:42) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

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Asked: Jan 17 '12 at 19:42

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Last updated: Jan 27 '12 at 23:42